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Design Innovation in New York City

Northwestern EDI student Kelly McComas reflects on her experience touring startups and design studios with design innovation graduate students in NY.

Northwestern EDI student Kelly McComas reflects on her experience touring startups and design studios with design innovation graduate students in NY.

Six students from Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Engineering Design Innovation Program (EDI) joined students from the University of Pennsylvania, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in February to tour a collection of startups and studios in New York City as part of the seventh annual Integrated Design Innovation (IDI) gathering. 

After a full day of studio tours, the graduate students gathered for a reception and panel discussion featuring alumni from the four schools.

Current EDI student Kelly McComas participated in the New York City trip and took time to reflect on the experience and the lessons she learned along the way.

What were you hoping to learn from the trip?

I was hoping to get a sense for design and innovation culture in New York City. In EDI, we've had the opportunity to visit studios in Chicago and San Francisco, and I was curious to see if and how the energy was different in New York. I also hoped to connect with alumni from EDI and other IDI schools. I wanted to learn about how they made it out to New York and what work they were doing.

What were two or three lessons you learned from the alumni panel?

I was really impressed with the accomplishments of the IDI alums on the panel,  and it was affirming, as it always is, to hear just how meandering the journeys of these successful people were. A few lessons that stuck out:

How would you describe the studio tours?

We visited a large startup incubator (150+ company) in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, called New Lab. It was awesome to see all of the different innovations that got started or were being produced there. Jump bikes (now owned by Uber) got their start there and were tested on the streets of the Navy Yard. We learned about the ways New Lab facilitates collaboration between startups and saw some of the resources they provide, including an impressive behemoth of a 3D printer. I also got to visit Fueled, where an iOS developer and Product Manager led a Q&A and demoed some digital products they'd worked on.

What were some of the key takeaways you took from the studio tours?

New Lab exposed me to a type of office/coworking space I'd never seen before. I was impressed and intrigued by the innovation happening there and the way the space was designed to make collaboration easy. At Fueled, I think the most interesting thing we discussed was the product manager role. We heard the hardest part of the job is saying no to clients, discovered the best part is field testing, and we learned about the agile methodology the company uses to organize work on a process across teams. 

Why is it important for EDI to offer experiences like this to students?

I think getting out of the Evanston bubble and into the real world is always a rewarding and exciting part of EDI. We get some of that exposure in our classes that are sponsored by corporate clients, but trips like this offer a unique opportunity to actually see the space where people work. I also think the alumni network is one of the biggest superpowers of EDI. The alums I talked to in NYC were enthusiastic, supportive, and thrilled to connect with us. They know exactly what we're going through, and their experiences offer so much insight into potential futures for us. 

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